Josh Stephenson - Olive Branch

Olive Branch shooting guard Josh Stephenson sets to fire a free throw late in his team's 73-70 victory over Memphis East as part of the Penny Hardaway ARS/Rescue Rooter National Hoopfest Friday at Olive Branch. East had entered the Hoopfest as the top-ranked team in the nation.  

In the world of high school athletics, the ultimate goal each season remains winning a state championship, getting the “Gold Ball,” as it is called in Mississippi.

For the Olive Branch High School boys basketball team, the atmosphere of winning a state title will be unprecedented, if that should occur, but it will still not come close to that atmosphere found in their own gymnasium Friday night when they faced one of the top-ranked teams in the country from Memphis East, coached by former NBA star and Memphis native Penny Hardaway.

It was part of the National Hoopfest two-day event in Memphis that held Hardaway’s name, along with sponsor ARS/Rescue Rooter.

Two games were scheduled on Friday night at the Olive Branch gymnasium, followed by six more at White Station High in Memphis on Saturday. In addition to facing East Friday night, the Quistors were scheduled to play Cordova, Tenn., a team that featured standout Tyler Harris, in Saturday’s matchup.

They stopped selling tickets for Friday night about 10 a.m. that morning. The fans came out in full force and were loud, the majority rooting for the home team Quistors. Coaches are recruiters were also on hand, including Memphis Tigers’ head coach Tubby Smith.

In a game that was electric as the atmosphere, Olive Branch prevailed, giving East a 73-70 setback.

While D.J. Jeffries came in as the player from Olive Branch everyone talked about, it was sophomore Cameron Matthews and junior Joe Cooper who led the way, with 16 and 19 points respectively. Jeffries would score 15 points, but 11 of those came at the free throw line.

Jeffries, however, was happy to beat a team with players and a coach in Hardaway that he plays alongside when high school basketball is not going on.

“It was a great game,” Jeffries said. “A lot of these guys I play AAU with, so it was fun to get the win, because I now got something to brag about.”

Jeffries is a member of the Team Penny AAU program that Hardaway coaches.

Alex Lomax led the Mustangs with 15 points in the loss.

“This atmosphere was amazing,” said coach Eric Rombaugh. “We’ve played a tough schedule this year with a lot of traveling and a lot of out-of-town trips and stuff like that.”

Olive Branch might have been the victim of a big letdown coming off the win Friday when the Quistors played Cordova Saturday, however. The Wolves won 49-47 and poor shooting was part of the problem for Olive Branch, which made only 1-17 three-point shots in the game. Matthews remained the dominant player for the Conquistadors, scoring 18 points, grabbing 12 rebounds and blocking four shots.

BOYS HIGHLIGHTS: Several other basketball games were played in DeSoto County this past weekend.

For instance on Friday, Gabe Moore’s buzzer beater in overtime gave DeSoto Central a 56-54 win over district rival Horn Lake. Brien Kimmons scored 16 for Center Hill, but Senatobia prevailed over the Mustangs 62-60. Tanner Woods scored 28 in Magnolia Heights’ 69-55 win over Strayhorn. Southaven stopped Hernando and Independence beat Lewisburg in other action reported in from Friday night.

On Saturday, Center Hill challenged a four-time consecutive state champion in Alabama basketball to the wire at the Tangle on the Trail classic, but Sacred Heart edged the Mustangs 70-67. Kimmons again stood out for Center Hill with 19 points and Kentrell Dorsey added 13.

A last-second shot by St. George’s of Collierville, Tenn. edged Northpoint Christian 52-50.

GIRLS HIGHLIGHTS: Weekend results in girls basketball had Horn Lake over DeSoto Central, Senatobia over Center Hill, Southaven gave Hernando just its second loss of the season with a 56-48 decision, Independence over Lewisburg and Magnolia Heights edged Strayhorn 49-48.

Saturday, Olive Branch fell to Choctaw Central 68-63 at the Tangle on the Trail classic, despite Endya Buford’s 27 points and 15 more from Katie Blackmon.

Northpoint Christian ran its mark to 13-2 overall and 3-0 in its TSSAA district with a 62-27 shellacking of St. George’s of Collierville. Lauren Gross led the way with 16 points, followed by Jade Wells with 13 and Caroline Swindoll with 12 more.

ON THE PITCH: Some soccer games were played as weather warmed a bit on Saturday, results which included Holland Watson’s three-goal hat-trick in Center Hill’s 4-1 girls’ win over North Pontotoc. The Center Hill boys lost to North Pontotoc in a game that finished in a 1-1 tie, but North Pontotoc won in penalty kicks by a 4-3 count.

Tupelo beat Southaven and Lake Cormorant shut out South Panola in boys’ action while Tupelo blanked Southaven and Lake Cormorant shut out South Panola in girls’ contests.

OUT HUSTLED: The Memphis Hustle hit the road with Saturday’s visit to Hildago, Texas, where the Rio Grande Valley Vipers torched the Hustle by a 157-134 score. The Vipers scored 50 points in the second quarter alone. Jordon Crawford led the Hustle in scoring with 24 points, one of seven Memphis players in double figures. Chance Comanche added 22 more.

Memphis now hosts the Lakeland Magic Thursday at the Landers Center and then will hit the road again to play at the Maine Red Claws on Saturday.

STRUGGLING KINGS: The Mississippi RiverKings failed to take advantage of a weekend at home, dropping a 5-4 decision to Peoria Friday and a 3-1 result to Fayetteville on Saturday.

In Friday’s action, Matt Harrington and Cody Walsh led the ‘Kings offense. Harrington had two goals, while Walsh scored one and also added an assist. Pijus Rulevicius chipped in a pair of helpers as well.

Devin Mantha scored Mississippi’s only goal in Saturday’s loss, which puts the RiverKings at 13-12-0 for the year with 26 standings points. They are seventh in the 10-team Southern Professional Hockey League.

Bob Bakken is Sports Editor and may be reached at 662-429-6397 ext. 240.

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